The Alchemist

Review of the book The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.
2022-07-14 – ⁠2022-09-11 finished
⁠certainty: log ⁠importance: 1Source published on: 1988

Inspired by a dream, an Andalusian shepherd leaves behind the safety of his life in search of a treasure in Egypt. During his trip he learns about personal legends (the one thing you’re born to do in your life), the soul of the world (gaia), universal language and how to listen to the heart. In the end he finds wisdom, love and money.

I forced my way through the second half of the book. The author sounded too confident and preachy about life and how the world works. I also didn’t connect with the protagonist because he seemed to transition between not knowing and knowing like magic.

I agree with the book’s message, though: follow your dream. When I see people spending their time as if they’re going to live forever, without dreams or goals or, worse, with them but doing nothing, it feels wasteful and disrespectful to life.

Highlights with my notes

They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts, because I lead them to nourishment.

Comfort numbs the mind and reinforces the habit of reacting to cravings and aversions. This makes it harder to be aware, see reality and hear our intuition. This is why austerity and asceticism are frequently recommended in spiritual disciplines.

“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being,” said the old man, with a certain bitterness. “Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early, too. But that’s the way it is.”

Not true for me. I’m 39 and I last changed my reason for being less than two years ago.

“If you start out by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose your desire to work toward getting it.”

Not true for me. I’ve done that and it seemed to help, not hinder me.

Remain centered in the Self:

‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.’"


“I’m alive,” he said to the boy, as they ate a bunch of dates one night, with no fires and no moon. “When I’m eating, that’s all I think about. If I’m on the march, I just concentrate on marching. If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.

On the highest form of love:

“I’m a desert woman, and I’m proud of that. I want my husband to wander as free as the wind that shapes the dunes. And, if I have to, I will accept the fact that he has become a part of the clouds, and the animals, and the water of the desert.”

Maybe these desert birds could explain to him the meaning of love without ownership.

Most of what I see called love seems to be attachment to people who help us satisfy our cravings or keep physical or psychological pain away. I see in those relationships little awareness of the soul inside the ever-changing body-mind shell.

To me the highest form of love is to consistently show with your thoughts, words and actions that you truly care about another person’s well-being, and to have no material or psychological attachments or dependencies to that person. Relationships based on “you make me feel safe”, “we share interests”, “I’m afraid of being alone”, or “we’ve always been together” frequently cause ignorance and suffering. For some, they may increase happiness compared to being alone, but they also seem to bring with them suffering and confusion.

Why might selfless love be so rare? We’re not wired for it (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), many of the world cultures and societal structures are not built around it (definition of success, definition of family, monogamy, money), and modern life is so full of distractions and movement that it’s hard to see or pursue selfless love.

Pure selfless love might be unattainable, but that’s not a reason not to try to get closer.

Beautiful images:

“I’ve crossed these sands many times,” said one of the camel drivers one night. “But the desert is so huge, and the horizons so distant, that they make a person feel small, and as if he should remain silent.”

Astride the animal was a horseman dressed completely in black, with a falcon perched on his left shoulder. He wore a turban and his entire face, except for his eyes, was covered with a black kerchief. He appeared to be a messenger from the desert, but his presence was much more powerful than that of a mere messenger.

Inner vs outer scorecard or difference between experiential and intellectual knowledge.

“When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”

How do I grow from this book?

  • Trust your intuition, stop reading books when they no longer interest you.
  • Don’t stop reading when you spot the first untruth. People may not know what their circle of competence is and still be competent about some things. Also remember that there is no absolute truth and that approximate solutions are valuable (compounding).

ISBN: 9780062315007